WHEN I got an email invite for a trip to the Sovi Basin, I immediately thought of Sovi Bay. Careful perusal of the email showed otherwise so I sent a few questions to someone more knowledgeable than me about such matters as she works in a conservation-related outfit.
She said the Sovi is important as it's the Fiji's first-ever and largest protected conservation area, Sovi Basin Protected Area, SBPA. It lies between three different ranges (Medrausucu, Korobasabasaga and Nakeva), and is in the provinces of Namosi and Naitasiri.
The basin contains 11 different forest types, representing nearly half of Fiji's wet forest diversity. It's home to some of Fiji's rarest biodiversity including plants, birds and the lot that are globally listed as critically endangered (IUCN, International Union for Conservation of Nature, red list).
During the hike up into the basin on Saturday October 13, we were shown where the hydrology unit of the water supply section of the Public Works Department used to have their station.
Trip organiser Vilikesa Masibalavu, of Conservation International (CI), then told us there were plans afoot to build a dam for the water needs of the ever-growing population in the Suva-Nausori corridor.
The question was then posed as to how important is the area to Fiji's natural heritage?
Vili says the Sovi Basin is Fiji's largest remaining undisturbed lowland forest watershed and its most biologically important terrestrial ecosystem. In fact, the Basin boasts the largest intact tract of forest and is the most biodiverse terrestrial ecosystem in the Polynesia-Micronesia Hot spot. With its dense mantle of tropical rainforest surrounded by jagged peaks and imposing scarp walls, the Sovi Basin is visually spectacular. It is home to 19 endemic birds — many of them threatened — and is likely a crucial site for the long-term survival of several species of mammals, reptiles, and amphibians. Birdlife International recently declared Sovi to be an "important bird area" and rediscovered the Fijian Long-legged warbler on its ridges, a bird previously considered extinct.
Physical isolation he says has protected the basin from major human impacts. Thus, it is an important refuge for the many species it supports, enabling their recovery when they fall victim to major disturbances such as cyclones, droughts, and human-induced forest degradation elsewhere on Viti Levu. The basin contains several river catchments and is one of the largest sub-catchments of the Rewa River, which is critical to nearby communities and an important potential water source for urban areas in the Central Division.
The Sovi Basin has been designated as a key biodiversity area (KBA), an important bird area (IBA) and is a site of national significance. Government is implementing an initiative to establish a national protected area network as part of its obligations to its citizens and also a number of multilateral environmental agreements (MEAs). The Sovi Basin is considered the "jewel in the crown" of Fiji's proposed protected area network and is why the SBPA has been designated.
Initially, the TLTB (iTaukei Lands Trust Board) worked with government and Conservation International (CI) to develop the conservation option for Sovi. However, it was not until the formation in 2005 of the Sovi Basin Working Group (SBWG) with its wider stakeholder group that significant progress was achieved.
Vili says surveys have revealed the presence of all of Viti Levu's forest birds with one exception the red-throated lorikeet. The red-throated lorikeet has been recorded close to, but just outside the PA boundary, and is clearly part of the basin avifauna. Clearly, if preserved, the basin will provide the most important source and conservation site for all of Viti Levu's forest birds, the majority of which are endemic. Both Viti Levu's endemic species, the masked shining parrot and the pink-billed parrot finch have been recorded in SBPA.
Since the confirmed rediscovery of the long-legged warbler, in 2003, over a century since it was last recorded on Viti Levu, it has since been recorded in suitable habitat — small upland streams — throughout the basin
Viti Levu's two flying fox species and blossom bat have been observed in Sovi.
Seven herpetofauna species have been confirmed from the Sovi Basin. The most common species are the Fiji tree frog, green tree skink, slender-toed gecko. The least common species is the Pacific boa.
Fourteen freshwater fish species have been recorded from the rivers and creeks within Sovi Two species are endemic, 11 are native and one is introduced. Six species of freshwater prawns have been recorded in the Sovi Basin. All but one of these are native but none endemic.
A total of 660 plants were found where 46 per cent are endemic to Fiji. A total of 29 species are listed as threatened in the IUCN red list,
He says the approach to the SBPA is incentive-based. CI worked to establish a model that would be appealing to various stakeholders — government, residents, and the private sector. Initially, the main motivation for conserving the Sovi Basin was its biodiversity. Over time, we learned that the forest holds many other values that can serve as motivation for other stakeholders. For instance, the Sovi Basin's carbon is of value for government and for corporations looking to offset their carbon emissions. Local residents are motivated by the water and food the area provides, as well as by their cultural ties to the forest. Tapping into these multiple values, understanding them, and using them to secure up support was of great importance for the establishment of the protected area.
When asked how the idea of an environment protected area came about, Vili says the conservation potential of the Sovi Basin was first recognised in the Native Land Trust Board (NLTB), Forestry Department (FD), Maruia Society report (Lees et al. 1989) and a very strong recommendation was made for its development as Fiji's "premier national park". The National Environment Strategy (GoF 1993) identified it as a priority site for full protection and this was repeated in the Fiji Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan (FBSAP) (GoF 1999).
Conservation International (CI) has been working with Sovi Basin communities and their surrounding environment since 1996. It is planned that the Sovi basin will be the cornerstone of a conservation corridor bisecting Fiji's main island of Viti levu.
All things considered, Vili says it is important to recognise that the affairs and aspirations of the landowners remain an integral component of the management of the protected area. These need to be formally addressed through the development of a co-management framework. The key areas of the co-management framework are:
p Communication and information exchange;
p Promotion of the landowner interests; and
p The reaching of agreements.
Co-management in the context of Sovi involves stakeholders working together to manage a resource in a sustainable way that achieves the goals of all parties consistent with their roles. Co-management does not imply legislative authority, jurisdiction, or devolution.
Responding to emailed questions, Water Authority of Fiji corporate communications team leader Fulori Turaga, said almost all the water supply for the Suva-Nausori area is presently pumped and sourced from the Waimanu River. This approach has several drawbacks:
p Electricity costs in pumping is substantial (20-25 per cent of WAF's annual operating cost is on this power);
p Water quality is low because of agriculture and other land development in the catchment area; and
p Low reliability because of heavy reliance on Fiji Electricity Authority power supply and pumping.
She said WAF was of the view that the construction of a dam on the Sovi River would solve these problems.
"Water would flow with gravity, less power costs, fewer disruptions as a result of power outages and pump breakdowns, and improved raw water quality. Reduction in reliance on power supplies and pumps would increase reliability and efficiency. There are currently no other gravity sources around or close to the Suva/Nausori area which would eliminate the use of pumps and electricity for transmission of raw water to our treatment plants at Waila and Tamavua. A dam is the next and only feasible option."
She said that despite efforts to minimise leakages, "previous studies have estimated unaccounted for water in the Suva/Nausori system to be around 30-40 per cent". Turaga said even if water loss was brought to around 10 per cent making an additional 20-30 per cent available for use, this would still not be enough. Turaga said unaccounted water or water loss was also termed as non-revenue water.
She said people must understand the rate of population increase made it imperative for an additional water source.
She said other potential sources had been considered for the Suva-Nausori water supply system. These include the Waibogi site along the Wainikoroiluva River on the upper reaches of the Navua River and the Upper Waimanu along the Waimanu River.
The Waibogi source was not given any further consideration because of its remote distance together with some of its other features and topography. The Upper Waimanu source Turaga said was not considered either as it was exposed to intensive agricultural farming and also earmarked for other commercial developments.
She said increasing the intake from existing sources was not an option.
The dam design she says will aim at optimising the capacity to cater for current and future demands.
Turaga says construction of the dam will be outsourced and funding will be decided by government
She said the terms of reference for a feasibility study was being prepared and the study was expected to commence in the first quarter of 2013 and take at least six months.
Linking the need for water in the Suva-Nausori corridor with what was happening in the west, she said some areas would always get very little or no water at all at times. These are areas in the southern part of Nadi namely Uciwai, Nawaicoba etc.
"What's happening here is that, the water that is coming down from our Nagado Treatment Plant is being pulled away by customers in the main town areas before it reaches those at the end of Nadi town. And again, the population in this stretch alone is increasing drastically and this is quite evident when we drive past to go to Nadi or Lautoka. So before water reaches these guys at the end of Nadi Town, most of the supply is already consumed by those in the middle or the front end of our supply.
"So what we are trying to do is revive our water sources at Vatutu and Delaisiro to cater for our customers in the Western Division. From this, we can confirm that there is more demand for water, but less supply. Again, the main contributing factor being the increase in population in these areas."